TALLAHASSEE, Florida (CNN) — How did two convicted murderers allegedly get their hands on forged documents that granted them early release from a Florida prison?
It began, authorities say, with one inmate teaching another how to fabricate the legal paperwork.
From inside the Franklin Correctional Institution in North Carrabelle, south of Tallahassee in Florida’s Panhandle, Nydeed Nashaddai trained inmates how to create the legal-looking documents with bogus signatures of prosecutors and judges, Gretl Plessinger, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Law Enforcement, told CNN on Wednesday.
Nashaddai used a similar technique in 2009 to walk away from the Pinellas County Jail before authorities figured out the scheme and recaptured him a day later, according to prison records.
“He was sentenced to Franklin Correctional, and he became the guy who taught everyone how to do this once he was there,” Plessinger said.
The revelation came the same day that the head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement told state lawmakers that Charles Walker and Joseph Jenkins had help inside and outside the prison to pull off their elaborate escape.
“There is a group, a gang, inside. They worked with people outside,” Commissioner Gerald Bailey, head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, told the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice.
Neither Plessinger nor Bailey said whether investigators believe Nashaddai taught the two men directly. He is no longer housed at Franklin Correctional, Plessinger said. She did not say when he was transferred or why.
Citing confidential inmate sources, Bailey told the panel that the documents were sent out by the prisoners to people on the outside, who in turn filed the bogus documents.
Walker and Jenkins, both 34, had been serving life terms without parole for unrelated killings at Franklin Correctional Institution when they allegedly escaped.
Jenkins walked out September 27, while Walker left October 8. Both used legal-looking documents with bogus reproductions of several key players’ signatures, including those of the Orlando-area state attorney and Judge Belvin Perry, plus the seal of the Orange County clerk of court’s office.
Both men were recaptured in late October and now face escape charges.
Bailey did not identify those who allegedly helped the men, telling lawmakers only that there is a list of suspects. There also is no evidence of employee involvement, he said.
State officials have been investigating the scam for about a year and had warned state prosecutors about the schemes over the summer, authorities have said.
Authorities have not detailed how the inmates allegedly pulled off the scheme.
But the escape has prompted a review of law libraries in state prisons as well as inmate use of computers and processing equipment “to make sure we are not giving them too much,” Michael Crews, head of the Florida Department of Corrections, told the committee.
State prisons are also strengthening their review of prisoner releases, he said.
Any future judicial order that changes the release date of an inmate will be verified with the judge who signed it, Crews said.
To date, the state Department of Corrections has reviewed 7,800 of more than 9,300 prison release documents for possible fraud, Crews said. So far, no fraud has been detected, he said.
Perry, the judge whose signature was forged, recommended to the legislature that penalties for doctoring and forging documents be increased.
Among the evidence authorities have collected in connection with the escape arrests is a cell phone that was seized in the prison, Plessinger said.
She did not identify whom the phone belonged to, only that it was “one of the inmates connected to this gang or group of people.”
Plessinger did not detail the evidence collected on the phone, saying only “it’s been a vital source of information.”
While Bailey did not specifically address the cell phone during his testimony before lawmakers, he did say investigators were analyzing documents, electronic devices and a “history of calls and text messages to and from Walker and Jenkins.”